Best of our wild blogs: 17 Oct 12

Otters, octopus and more on Northern Expedition Day 2
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

Tanimbar Corellas fighting over Passiflora laurifolia fruit
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Random Gallery - Black Veined Tiger
from Butterflies of Singapore

Dragonfly (11) – Orthetrum luzonicum [呂宋蜻蜓]
from Dragonflies & Damselflies of Singapore

Read more!

Run but don't litter

Straits Times Forum 17 Oct 12;

I RAN the North Face 100 race last Saturday at MacRitchie Reservoir/Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

While I thoroughly enjoyed my 25km run, I was disappointed to see some runners throwing their empty power-gel sachets or water cups on the ground along the trails.

I also saw monkeys at the nature reserve tearing up these pieces of rubbish to scavenge for leftover food.

Unlike conventional races in the city, I do not think there were cleaners to pick up rubbish along the running trails for this race. Although we paid to take part in the race, we are not entitled to litter.

The race organisers should consider placing more disposal bins along the trails.

As for the runners, they should either keep their rubbish temporarily in their hydration bags, or simply hold on to it until they see a bin.

Let's help to preserve our beautiful nature reserves by being more conscious of our actions and not littering. As the slogan goes: "Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints."

Tan Poh Long

Read more!

Punggol to feature Singapore's newest seafront housing estate

Today Online 16 Oct 12;

SINGAPORE - As Punggol moves into the next chapter of its development, it could potentially become Singapore's biggest housing town - twice that of Ang Mo Kio today - and feature the Republic's newest seafront public housing estate.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan today outlined several new ideas characterising Punggol Phase II, which will cover developments over the next 15 years and beyond.

"Punggol Town will be big," said Mr Khaw, speaking at the HDB Awards 2012. The number of apartments will increase from the current 26,000 to nearly 100,000.

There will be "distinctive districts, each with a unique character and identity" to give residents a strong sense of attachment to their neighbourhoods, he said. For instance, there will be seven different waterfront housing districts.

Waterway East and Waterway West Districts are currently already under development, while the Northshore and Matilda districts are likely to start development first within the next five years, subject to demand.

The Northshore District, to the north of Punggol Town, will feature Singapore's newest seafront public housing and Punggol's tallest residential buildings. The Housing and Development Board (HDB) will explore new building forms for the district.

The Matilda District will be developed along Punggol's western waterfront, as its landscape and architecture draws inspiration from the rich history of the area.

There will also be "attractive public spaces to encourage community activities", said Mr Khaw, citing a new Punggol Downtown with a new town hub and town square.

And even as Punggol urbanises, there will be "abundant greenery" to soften its high density, assured Mr Khaw.

More green parks and green corridors will be integrated with the waterfront promenades, according to the HDB in a news release. The existing My Waterway@Punggol and the Punggol Waterway Park will be enhanced, with green spaces expanding towards the north.

There will also be green linear corridoors for recreational activities such as jogging, cycling and brisk walking. An example is the Old Punggol Road, which will be kept as a linear 1.5km heritage trail.

The HDB said: "Residents can look forward to more recreational spaces and commercial amenities such as a new sports complex, a Horse Riding Centre, and a hawker centre.

"Community interaction will also be enhanced with the upcoming Punggol Town Square and a Community Club where residents can gather and organise local community events."

"These ideas for Punggol underpin the planning philosophy that we are adopting for all HDB towns: make space for greenery, support an active citizenry, create opportunities for residents to mingle and bond, retain social memories and sharpen the character of each HDB town," said Mr Khaw.

"If we execute it well, we can create gems out of our HDB towns," he continued. "Execute it well, we can live very comfortably, despite a higher population density."

Punggol to have 7 new waterfront districts
Abundant flora will soften density; waterfront market for town centre
Daryl Chin Straits Times 17 Oct 12

THE Housing Board has unveiled the next phase of development for Singapore's hottest new estate, Punggol, which is also known for being the first eco-town.

Estimated to be twice the size of Ang Mo Kio when it is complete, the eco-precinct is expected to boast seven new districts for waterfront housing, as well as abundant greenery to soften its projected high density.

Last night at the HDB Awards gala at Marina Bay Sands, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan painted the next phase of Punggol as part of the Government's plan to progressively raise the standard of HDB living while catering to a growing population.

"(New HDB towns) enable us to try out new planning concepts and ideas. Proven ideas can then be replicated in other new towns, as well as in old towns when we redevelop them," he said.

There are 26,400 completed HDB flats in the area, and about 6,400 private homes which are in the works.

The total number of HDB flats and private homes is projected to be 96,000 when development ends, which could happen in the next 15 years or so, depending on demand and economic conditions.

These will be spread out over seven new waterfront housing districts aside from Punggol Central, where most of the current developments are.

The first two to be developed within the next five years will be the Northshore and Matilda districts. The former will boast the tallest residential buildings in the area - at 29 storeys, and overlooking the Strait of Johor - while the latter will draw inspiration from the rich history of the area such as the iconic Matilda House.

Other districts which will come on stream later include Crescent, Punggol Point and Canal. Work at Waterway East and Waterway West has already begun.

The town centre will be expanded into a new "Punggol Downtown", which will have a waterfront market village, a learning corridor which will house educational institutions, and a creative cluster for commercial use relating to lifestyle needs.

Flora will also play a bigger role in the nation's first eco-town. The existing waterway will be enhanced with green spaces extending northwards. Coupled with the town centre, a new sports complex and the learning corridor, this area will form the "green heart" of the town.

"Green fingers" - or paths lined with greenery - will extend from the "green heart" to reach the coastal promenade and Coney Island, where a park is expected to be completed by 2014.

The 1.5km Old Punggol Road will be one such "finger". It will be closed to traffic and converted to a heritage trail for pedestrians.

Cycling tracks will also be built in tandem with new roads to encourage a clean commute, while the Western LRT loop is expected to start operations in tandem with development in the area.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA), with other agencies, is studying the feasibility of a road link between KPE/TPE and Punggol Central and expects to complete the study by mid-2013. The construction timeline will be determined after the technical feasibility study is completed.

Analysts The Straits Times spoke to said Punggol's development also echoes HDB's move towards concept living.

"HDB first started by just providing housing. They then moved to starting up self-sufficient satellite towns like Tampines and Woodlands. Now, they are going into addressing lifestyle needs," said Mr Chris Koh from property consultancy Chris International.

An exhibition on the proposed plans has been put up for public consultation at HDB Hub, starting today and continuing until Oct 28.

A new cyclists' haven
Cycling lanes to be built in tandem with new roads for clean commuting
Goh Shi Ting Straits Times 16 Oct 12;

MOVE over Tampines. Punggol may soon be the first housing estate with cycling lanes built in tandem with new roads.

The Housing Board has proposed the move as part of the estate's next phase of development in order to encourage clean commuting and improve connectivity.

At the moment, Tampines is Singapore's only cycling town. Unlike the plans for Punggol, its bike lanes were not built along with the road but were retrofitted.

Currently, Punggol MRT station and the LRT rail system serve residents in the young estate, which sees many adult and child cyclists hitting the pavements.

The proposals, along with other eco-friendly efforts, such as more green spaces, will be on display at HDB Hub in Toa Payoh, in an exhibition which aims to gather public feedback from today until Oct28.

Cyclists who spoke to The Straits Times said this was a good chance for Punggol to be a cycling blueprint for other new towns.

"If you have a blank canvas, then do it right from the start," said Dr Paul Barter, cyclist and urban transport policy scholar at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. He advised following international standards, such as having one continuous cycling track that does not require riders to dismount.

"It is easier to do a good job if you are starting from scratch," he said, "so you don't have to deal with strange situations such as bus stops or stairwells along the way. And it's also cheaper than having to redo it later."

Other avid cyclists living in Punggol hope new cycling lanes will solve the problems they currently face.

"Sometimes, pedestrians can't seem to hear the bell on my bicycle," said teacher Dawn Ling, 32, who cycles once a week to her school in Pasir Ris. "I have to come to a complete stop on the pavement, posing some danger to other cyclists and to pedestrians.

"Right now, the traffic is not that heavy but given the numerous housing developments in Punggol, traffic will definitely be expected to increase sharply."

Said Mr Dean Tan, 45, founder of cycling group Punggol Night Riders, which meets every Friday: "There is still a long way to go to improve the situation.

"There was a driver who told me to get off the road because I don't pay road tax," he said. He hopes cycling tracks will help drivers realise that cyclists have shared ownership of the roads.

Eco-town sweeps design awards
Daryl Chin Straits Times 17 Oct 12;

PUNGGOL may have some grand plans in the pipeline, but the area's existing developments are already pulling in the awards.

The eco-district bagged top honours at a Housing Board gala last night, taking nine prizes for building and design.

They included an award for the Punggol Waterway, plus others for developments such as Punggol Spring and Damai Grove.

A total of seven prizes for design and 14 for construction were presented at the sixth Housing and Development Board Awards ceremony at Marina Bay Sands.

As well as being Singapore's largest housing developer, with more than a million flats under its belt, the HDB also has a role in planning estates.

The award winners are projects that have produced outstanding work within its guidelines.

For example, Punggol Spring stood out for its innovation and productive construction process. It has 494 units in five 17-storey blocks, and boasts sustainable features such as decks made of recycled timber, which is more durable than its newer counterparts.

Instead of concrete drains, the project has a bioswale filtration system that incorporates soil and plants to promote greenery.

Mr Tony Ng, the precinct's project director, said: "Punggol is shaping up very well, and it's the way forward in terms of including sustainability and greenery in housing developments."

Town planner Surbana won an award for the design of the 4.2km Punggol Waterway. It was also honoured for its work on Clementi interchange, the first development to include HDB flats, a commercial mall and a bus interchange. Other winners included projects in Bukit Batok, Telok Blangah and Ghim Moh.

From pungent pig farms to hot new eco-town
Melissa Lin Straits Times 18 Oct 12;

RETIRED air force officer Y.C. Teo still remembers the days when his house used to stink.

The 78-year-old has lived in a bungalow just off Old Punggol Road since the 1970s, when the area was populated by pig, chicken and fish farms.

"It was a horrible place," he said. "On rainy days, there would be a great stench. Nobody wanted to take a second look at the place."

These days, the farms are gone and Punggol is Singapore's hottest new estate. High-rise buildings have taken over the land that used to house the farms and their neighbouring attap- and zinc-roofed shophouses.

Phase two of plans to transform Punggol into a waterfront town was unveiled by the Housing Board on Tuesday. Public consultation began yesterday at the HDB Hub and will end on Oct 28.

As part of the plans, a 1.5km stretch of Old Punggol Road will be closed to traffic and converted to a heritage trail for pedestrians.

It is a road on which the history of Punggol has been written. It leads to the old Punggol Point, where long-time residents fondly recall tucking into seafood dishes amid the exhaust from buses turning around at the end of the road. Three seafood restaurants used to do thriving business there, said residents.

"Eating there was not just a treat, it was an experience," said naval architect Jerome Lim, 48, who was a regular visitor to the area as a child.

"It was alfresco dining," he added. "Tables would be laid out with plastic basins of hot water with tea cups and utensils inside."

Water sports centres and fishing villages also used to dot the shoreline.

Madam Alice Chu, a 56-year- old housewife who has lived in Punggol for nearly three decades, recalled how her husband used to take a speedboat he owned with some friends out fishing at night.

His catch often ended on the dinner table as dishes such as steamed crabs with belachan (shrimp paste).

They would also go out for rides to Marina Bay, where Marina Bay Sands now stands.

The demographic at the old Punggol Point has changed, said Madam Chu.

Crowds of rowdy seafood lovers have given way to young parents and their children in strollers, making their way around the Punggol Point Park.

The park boasts lotus ponds, a playground, kite-flying spots, boardwalks and a rustic park connector.

Amid the structural changes, Madam Chu laments the loss of the kampung spirit. Her daughter would, as a child, cycle around the estate, enter their neighbours' houses and open the refrigerator to grab a drink. No one would bat an eyelid because everyone knewone another, she said.

Mr Lim also hoped that further plans would keep some things the same.

"Change always happens, but it's nice if Punggol can retain some of its old charm and bring back the eateries and sea sports centres," he said.

He recalled seeing chickens running around with their heads chopped off at a farm and hearing the squeal of pigs in the evenings before they were fed.

He said: "I was raised an urban kid. Punggol was somewhere I didn't like visiting.

"But I'm glad now that I got to be in an environment that doesn't exist here any more."

Read more!

Imperiled Orangutans Need Key Forest Corridor Yahoo News 16 Oct 12;

Sumatran orangutans are in trouble: Only about 6,600 of the animals are left, scattered throughout the northern tip of the Indonesian island where they once flourished.

A new genetic study of the animals has found that deforestation on Sumatra has isolated different groups of the primates, which could lead to inbreeding and further decline. But the research also identified a critical corridor of forested hills that orangutans still travel though, which, if protected, could help the species rebound, according to a release describing the study.

The investigators took DNA from wild orangutan's hair and fecal samples, as well as blood samples from orangutans from known areas that were kept as pets before being confiscated by authorities.

Their study, published recently in the Journal of Heredity, found that there was recent genetic exchange between several of the groups by breeding males. "Our study revealed that some males can range widely over large distances and across natural barriers in search of females," said co-author Alexander Nater, a researcher at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, in a statement.

Male apes use the passageway the study found to get around the headwaters of rivers high in the mountains. It's critical that these areas remained forested, the researchers say, since the critically endangered orangutan spends nearly all of its time in the canopies of trees.

"This result highlights the need to conserve these important dispersal corridors to uphold genetic exchange," Nater said in the statement. "And it also gives hope that it is not yet too late to preserve these unique Asian great apes."

Read more!

Record poaching drives rhinos toward tipping point

WWF 16 Oct 12;

Cape Town – Rhino poaching statistics released today by South African authorities show that a record 455 rhinos have been lost to poaching already in 2012. The number exceeds the 448 rhinos killed for their horns during the whole of 2011.

“The most recent figure is disappointing as last year’s total has already been exceeded by mid-October. World-famous safari destination Kruger National Park continues to be the hardest hit by poachers with 272 rhinos killed to-date,” said Dr Jo Shaw, WWF-South Africa’s Rhino Co-ordinator.

Rhino poaching rates have increased rapidly since 2007 as new markets for rhino horn have emerged in Asia, primarily in Viet Nam. Rhino horn has recently been touted as a hangover cure and treatment for terminal illnesses, according to a report by WWF’s partner TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.

“It is critical for the South African government to engage with consumer countries and to fight against international syndicates involved in illegal rhino horn trade. WWF is concerned that the Memorandum of Understanding with Viet Nam for collaborative action against illegal rhino horn trade remains unsigned. There is also an urgent need for law enforcement actions by neighbouring countries which are implicated as transit routes for illegal trade in rhino horn, specifically Mozambique,” Shaw said.

The number of arrests for rhino crimes has increased this year in South Africa, with 207 poachers, middlemen and couriers taken into police custody. WWF commends the South African government and law enforcement authorities for their continued efforts to help curb illegal wildlife trade, but believes there is no room for complacency.

A major alleged rhino poaching syndicate, the so-called ‘Groenewald Gang’, is due to appear in a South African court Friday. The group, consisting of a safari tour operator, veterinarians, professional hunters and a helicopter pilot, is facing charges related to the killing of 20 rhinos who were found without their horns.

“The world is watching to see that South Africa is prepared to prosecute rhino crimes to the fullest extent of the law and take these crimes seriously as an affront to South Africa’s national heritage,” Shaw said.

WWF is calling on governments implicated in the illegal trade of wildlife products such as rhino horn to increase law enforcement, impose strong deterrents and conduct widespread demand reduction campaigns to discourage the consumption of endangered species products.

WWF is also helping to ensure that existing rhino populations grow as quickly as possible. Earlier this month, WWF flew 13 rhinos to new homes as part of a range expansion project that has established eight new black rhino populations in South Africa. There are fewer than 5,000 of the critically endangered animals remaining.

“To-date, rhino numbers continue to grow in South Africa as more rhinos are being born than are dying, even when poaching mortalities are taken into account,” Shaw said. “However, we are approaching the critical tipping point where rhino numbers go into decline and would undermine conservation efforts.”

Read more!

Biodiversity conference mulls true cost of nature

Mariette le Roux (AFP) Google News 17 Oct 12;

HYDERABAD, India — Should European farmers pay for pollination provided by bees? Should city dwellers in Brazil pay for the abundant rain generated over the Amazonian forest? And if mangroves are a shield against tsunamis, shouldn't seaside resorts in Thailand be paying for them?

These are the kinds of questions being asked at the world's top biodiversity conference in India, where policymakers are desperately seeking ways to preserve the world's dwindling plant and animal resources.

A strong consensus is emerging that putting a price on nature may be the only way to get people to prevent Earth's bounty being squandered, sometimes to extinction.

Less clear, though, is how this can be achieved.

"The benefits have no price tag associated with them, which mean they are not accounted for ... when other decisions are made," said Neville Ash, chief of the UN Environmental Programme's biodiversity unit.

According to the IUCN, human expansion has lead to the destruction of six million hectares of primary forest every year since 2006.

Thirty-five percent of mangroves -- which are vital sources of food, fuel, fibre and pharmaceutical molecules -- have also been lost in just 20 years.

The idea of putting a price on some hitherto "free" resources has gained traction in recent years as pressure to halt the decline forces policy makers to think innovatively.

Nearly half of amphibian species, a third of corals, a quarter of mammals, a fifth of all plants and 13 percent of the world's birds are at risk of extinction, according to the "Red List" compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

So academics and economists attempt to calculate the value of nature in dollars and cents, hoping that governments will include the estimates in their long-term planning and short-term awarding of exploitation contracts.

"Economics has become the currency of policy," environmental economist Pavan Sukhdev told AFP.

"In order to make politicians see how important biodiversity is, you need to tell them the dollar value of ecosystem services their economy is losing because of their mismanagement and loss of ecosystems and biodiversity."

Researchers made a first stab at putting a value on Earth's biosphere in 1997, submitting that ecosystems made an unseen annual contribution of $33 trillion (25 trillion euros in today's terms).

The number amounted to double the annual global GDP at the time and was slammed by some for being grossly overinflated. Others scoffed at the "dollarisation" of Earth's natural treasure.

Since then, smaller studies have tried to value everything from bee pollination (about $190 billion or 150 billion euros, based on one estimate) to mangrove storm protection (up to about $1,000 or 780 euros per hectare per year).

Both resources are at risk -- mangroves make way for shrimp farms that make their owners rich but rob local communities of fuel wood and fish, while bee numbers are slumping in some parts of the world along with a drop in the diversity of plants they feed on.

"There is no market for many things, the environment is a good example, and so we essentially treat (resources) as free and over-exploit them," said Dominic Moran, professor of environmental economics at Scotland's Rural College.

Valuation alone is not enough, said Nathaniel Carroll, head of the biodiversity programme at Forest Trends, a non-profit group promoting "market-based approaches" to forest conservation.

"Everyone should be paying for their impacts on, use of, and reliance on biodiversity and its services, if they want it to continue to be available," he said.

But at this point, many of the toughest questions come to the fore.

Should there be a tax or levy? Conservation charges? Payment for "services" that nature has hitherto provided for free? Could there be a biodiversity market, such as that created for carbon to provide incentives for reducing polluting emissions?

Moran said assigning property rights may be a solution.

"If those resources are entrusted to specific communities or countries as owners, then they have the right to charge for use. They also have the incentive to sustainably manage their resource for the long term."

This is not an alien concept. People already pay entry fees to conservation parks and communities receive royalties on the use of medicinal plants, for example.

Whatever the option, added Carroll, "you need regulation and real enforcement to achieve meaningful scale."

While the jury remains divided on the exact approach, a new study last week said $4 billion (3 billion euros) per year are needed to reduce the extinction risk for all known threatened species, and another $76 billion (60 billion euros) to protect conservation sites.

"The total costs are very small relative to the likely costs of inaction," said study author Donal McCarthy, an economist with BirdLife International.

"The total is just one to four percent of the net value of ecosystem services being lost annually, for which estimates range from $2 to $6.6 trillion... The total required is less than 20 percent of annual global consumer spending on soft drinks."

Read more!